LAS VEGAS — Forty minutes into an April exercise, Devin Haney, the undisputed light-weight champion, stalked throughout the ring on the Top Rank Gym to throw punches at a coach sporting goal mitts, a thick physique pad and, because the session continued, a grimace. .
A string of jabs and a crisp proper hand. A pivot, and some thudding physique blows.
Another assistant coach leaned on the highest rope with a clicker in his proper hand, and introduced that Haney had simply surpassed 2,000 punches thrown.
Haney, 24, wasn’t simply pitty-pat punching to run up numbers as he trains for his title protection on Saturday evening in opposition to Vasiliy Lomachenko, 35.
During a temporary pause, the coach holding the mitts wandered over to a nook of the ring and grumbled that Haney had almost damaged his palms. When the motion resumed, Bill Haney, Devin’s father and head coach, requested to borrow a reporter’s pocket book and pen.
“He’s punching a lot tougher!!!!” Bill Haney wrote.
While the April conflict between Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia was the highest-profile boxing match of early 2023, Saturday’s pairing between Haney and Lomachenko has increased stakes. Davis and Garcia met at a catchweight (136 kilos) and didn’t combat for an official title; Haney and Lomachenko are slated to fulfill at light-weight (135 kilos), with the winner claiming championships from all 4 main sanctioning our bodies.
Lomachenko is a two-time Olympic champion from Ukraine, who has employed a dizzying mix of pace, energy and footwork to win professional championships in three divisions — however he has by no means held the undisputed title at light-weight.
Right now, Haney, 29-0 with 15 knockouts, holds these belts, a distinction that makes him the A-side in a bout between elite performers. He counts his improved punching energy as yet another issue he thinks will propel him previous Lomachenko and cement his standing as the highest fighter in a talent-rich division.
“I need to be an all-time nice on this sport, and this combat is only one step nearer,” Haney mentioned after the exercise. “Loma is a good fighter. I’ll look to make him look common. I’m kryptonite to his fashion.”
“They’re going to offer me my credit score after this,” he added later.
Last June, Haney outboxed the Australian fighter George Kambosos Jr. to change into the undisputed champion and present some sorely wanted readability for folks attempting to comply with the game. In most weight lessons, titles from the 4 main sanctioning our bodies are unfold amongst a number of fighters, making it tough to find out which champion is the “actual” one.
At light-weight, Haney owns all 4 belts. One division, one champion.
Still, some friends and potential opponents debate his credentials.
Haney first turned the World Boxing Council’s light-weight champion in 2019, when the group promoted him from interim champion, basically awarding him a title with out a combat. Those occasions prompted Davis to label him an “electronic mail champion.”
And his shot at Kambosos got here solely after Lomachenko, who was already contracted to problem Kambosos, turned the combat down. When Russian troops invaded Ukraine in February 2022, Lomachenko paused his boxing profession to hitch the army; Haney changed him in opposition to Kambosos and gained three titles.
Lomachenko resumed his profession final October, profitable a 12-round choice over Jamaine Ortiz. At 35, Lomachenko doesn’t see his age as a drawback, however acknowledges that, 9 years after he gained his first world title, his window of alternative is shrinking.
“This is my final likelihood to be undisputed world champion,” mentioned Lomachenko, who’s 17-2 with 11 knockouts. “Right now, at this second, it is probably the most fascinating weight class on this planet, and you want, at all times, to show you are the perfect.”
Haney first lobbied for a Lomachenko bout in early 2019, when Haney was a extremely regarded prospect who had not but gained a world title, and when Lomachenko held title belts from two main sanctioning our bodies.
Lomachenko’s supervisor, Egis Klimas, rebuffed Haney’s camp for logistical causes — Haney was aligned with Matchroom Boxing, which streams its occasions on DAZN, whereas Lomachenko was dedicated to Top Rank and ESPN. But Klimas additionally identified that Haney had not but achieved sufficient to deserve a high-profile, big-money bout in opposition to Lomachenko.
“Devin was not a identify. Devin did not have any titles,” Klimas mentioned at a information convention on Wednesday. “Lomachenko was at all times chasing champions, the massive names.”
Now Haney has the titles and the negotiating leverage.
Haney and Lomachenko’s pairing is the most recent iteration of an interesting archetypal sports activities matchup — the good veteran who might need handed his peak versus the younger star approaching his prime.
Those pairings are clear attracts in different sports activities. Football had the Super Bowl for the 2020 season, through which Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took down Patrick Mahomes’s Kansas City Chiefs. The NBA has had casual torch-passings; suppose Michael Jordan’s Bulls outclassing Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers within the 1991 NBA finals. Haney and Lomachenko should not almost as well-known however their positions within the sport make a wide selection of outcomes compelling.
“This ranks proper up there with the perfect ones,” Bob Arum, the combat’s promoter, instructed reporters at a information convention. “Why? Because it is so aggressive, and there are such a lot of opinions on the market as to who will win.”
Either approach, Saturday’s winner turns into the highest fighter in boxing’s hottest division.
Potential matchups loom with boxers like Shakur Stevenson, the undefeated former 130-pound champion, who, like Lomachenko, is promoted by Top Rank (Haney’s Top Rank deal expires after Saturday’s bout). Hypothetically, the winner of Saturday’s bout might additionally match up in opposition to Davis, whose win over Garcia boosted his profile and attraction. And in contrast to the welterweight and heavyweight divisions, the place negotiations for bouts between prime stars maintain stalling, prime lightweights seem intent on making these matchups occur, even when it means forcing rival promoters to cooperate.
“It’s a good time in boxing,” Haney mentioned. “We’re all younger. We must be completely happy that we’re each on this period of younger guys who’re all in the identical weight class.”